view of times square in midtown nyc on blue sky day

Must See! Things to do in Midtown Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan is widely considered the heart of New York City. During the workday, the area is full of people rushing to and from work, people out enjoying lunch, shoppers, and tourists. At night you can expect to see the crowds arrive dressed up as they enter packed restaurants for dinner before a show or a night out on the town. Some visitors to the city arrive in this area directly from the airport, train station, or bus stop, check in to their hotel and never stray further than the area until it is time to head back home. Who can blame them?

Even, if you had a week for planned for your NYC trip, there is so much to do in Midtown you will never find yourself “bored.” Midtown Manhattan’s borders are not as strictly defined as some other areas of the city. Some say it is 34th Street up north to 59th, spanning the entire island east to west, while others consider it to go as far south as 14th street, and stopping at 3rd Avenue on the east side and 8th Avenue on the west.

For the purposes of this article, we will use the first area listed here, 34th to 59th and the entire island east to west, encompassing neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen, Hudson Yards, and the United Nations. This area has the highest number of skyscrapers of anywhere else in the city, many prominent office buildings and luxury apartment buildings fill up the streets of Midtown, but there are lots of hidden gems too.

1. Visit Times Square (Because Did You Really Visit NYC?)

Times Square is probably the most recognizable spot in all of Midtown, if not all of New York City, with its towering billboards and bright lights even at night it feels bright as day. This is the main hub of the Theater District. If you stand in the center of the Times Square Plaza and look south, you will see 1 Times Square and perched atop, your eyes will find the famous New Year’s Eve ball that sits there on display all year round, with the bright numbers for the year below it.

Liz and Jess in times square nyc

All around you in the area you will see popular shops like, The Disney Store, H&M, Swarovski, and even an M&M Store! There are the bright red stairs of the TKTS Booth (discussed later in this article) which tourists will sit upon while eating a snack and gazing out at all the hustle and bustle of the area.

Must-Eats Around Time Square

If you want to try a classic New York City eatery in this area, we’ve got a few for you, perfect for a pre-show dinner, or post-show treat. Sardis, located on 44th St between Broadway and 8th Ave is known as a “Broadway Institution” — you may know it as “that restaurant you saw in a tv show/movie based in NYC that had all the caricatures on the walls.” Sardi’s opened in 1927, the owner hired a Russian immigrant to draw caricatures in exchange for free food, as a way to hopefully attract more customers – and it worked! Sardi’s continued their successful run until the 80’s when it went into decline, but not to worry, after being sold off and briefly closing in 1990 the Sardi’s that the Broadway community knows and loves, reopened with a new staff, but has kept the old caricature tradition and charm – after all, THIS is the restaurant where the idea for the Tony Awards was conceived.

Another notable restaurant in the area is John’s Pizza. According to their website, John’s Pizza is the most unique pizzeria in the world, and I must say, having eaten there myself, it is pretty unique – though I haven’t been everywhere in the world. Every pizza here is unique as each pizza is made fresh to order in one of the four coal-fired brick ovens around the restaurant, and since these ovens season with age, no pizza comes out the same, but they all come out delicious. More than the pizza though is the location. John’s Pizza in Times Square is located inside a deconsecrated church, complete with stained glass, a mural that covers the expansive back wall, pizza ovens located in various corners of the restaurant, and multi levels of dining.

If you like cheesecake, you can’t pass up on the famous Junior’s. The first Junior’s in Times Square is located in Shubert Alley at 45th Street, this popular haunt for pre and post-show gatherings got so popular that they have opened a second location just a few blocks north at 49th and Broadway. Junior’s serves your typical diner-type fare from breakfast all day, disco fries, burgers, cocktails, steak – almost anything you can think of, but what they are really known for, is their cheesecake.

They have roughly 10 types of cheesecake on their menu, including a sugar-free variety, but if cheesecake isn’t for you, not to worry they have you covered with other cakes, pies, sundaes, and milkshakes, in true diner fashion. The wait for Junior’s can get exceptionally long so, if possible, we recommend making a reservation.

2. See a Broadway Show

All this talk about pre and post-show food, what about the shows? There are plenty to choose from as currently there are 41 Broadway Theaters in operation in New York City sure to have something for everyone. One of the safest ways to purchase tickets for a show are directly from the box office, or from one of the three website used by the theaters; Telecharge, Ticketmaster, Seat Geek – however with these sellers you may also encounter people who are reselling tickets – so the prices may appear to vary. But only verified sellers will be allowed to sell via these websites.

Colorful broadway sign in times square midtown nyc

How to Buy Tickets for a Broadway Show

Another popular and trusted way to purchase tickets is from the TKTS Booth, the main booth is located in Times Square but there is a location down at the South Street Seaport, and one in Downtown Brooklyn (these two locations have varying hours so check the website to ensure they will be open before making the trek). TKTS will sell discounted tickets for the show day of.

Today Tix is a popular app you can download for convenient tickets, you will be able to enter lotteries specific to Today Tix deals or purchase discounted tickets in advance, with this website you can pick the location of your seats, but you cannot pick which exact seats you are assigned. Once you purchase tickets from this app, there will be instructions on where to meet your Today Tix representative to pick up your ticket immediately before showtime.

Hades Town on Broadway playbill in historic Walter Kerr theater

Can I Buy Last-Minute Broadway Tickets?

Yes! Rush tickets can be purchased day of at the box office of the theater if there are any available, and many shows have lotteries. These lotteries used to always take place in front of the theater a couple of hours before the doors open and some venues still do it this way but with the increase in phone usage some shows have gone to hosting digital lotteries online. Check the website for each show to learn of their Rush tickets, lotteries, and in some cases, standing room only policies.

Not sure what show to see? Check out the suggestions in our blog post for the Best Broadway Shows to See in NYC During Your Visit and if you still are undecided, there are a whole host of off and off-off Broadway shows to choose from as well.

3. Carnegie Hall Historic Landmark

Along with Broadway, Midtown is also home to Carnegie Hall. Since 1891, this National Historic Landmark has played host to many classical and popular music icons. The building, built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, has its own programming which presents roughly 250 performances each season within its three venues within this building and is also rented out to various performance groups from around the world. Carnegie Hall hosts private group and public tours, check their website for times and availability prior to arrival.

4. Bryant Park & Library

One of the world’s busiest public spaces is a small park located between 40th and 42nd streets between 5th and 6th Avenues, Bryant Park. Bryant Park hosts more than twelve million visitors a year! This small garden is located off the back of the New York Public Library and is home to many events throughout the year. Not only does this location boast of beautiful walking paths, a small carousel, a few year-round outdoor cafes, ping pong tables, and Petanque courts it is also home to a winter market and ice-skating rink during the winter months.

People laying on the grass in Bryant Park midtown manhattan nyc on a pretty blue sky day

In the summer you can find outdoor movies, dance recitals, and small concerts. Come August, Broadway in Bryant Park brings well-known Broadway artists to the stage for an annual outdoor concert. This park may be small, but it is mighty, and immensely popular among New York City locals and tourists alike.

As mentioned, the New York Public Library’s main branch shares this strip of land with Bryant Park, facing 5th Avenue. In the 1960’s this building was declared a National Historic Landmark, and while the circulation division of this branch was moved to another branch in the 1970’s, this location is known for the stunningly ornate architecture and the special collections that it houses (there are eight of them from maps to genealogy to even rare books).

Walking up 41st St towards the library’s main façade is what is referred to as “Library Way”, on both sides of the street you will find forty-eight unique plaques (96 in total as each side is the same). These bronze plaques feature quotes from famous authors, poets, and other notables including Lewis Carroll, Francis Bacon, and Virginia Wolf. This façade has been used in many notable film and television works including Ghostbusters (you can see the Ghostbusters firestation in Lower Manhatan) and Sex and the City to name a few.

5. Herald Square & Macy’s, Empire State Building, Koreatown and Madison Square Garden

If you have ever watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, then surely you have heard of Herald Square. Herald Square is located between 34th and 35th Street where Broadway crosses through 6th Avenue and creates a little triangular park area. Herald Square is currently a popular shopping destination that is also home to many food trucks and street carts with outdoor dining tables set up for patrons to take a break from the busy day. You can also take some time to explore this flagship Macy’s store and even ride the original wooden escalators (yes, you read that correctly – wooden escalator!).

Down 34th St to the east you will find the Empire State Building located at 5th Avenue and 34th Street, while you are able to walk in and see the lobby architecture, you will not be able to get much further without a ticket to the top. If you do want to go up to the top, be sure to purchase your tickets in advance and be prepared to wait in line because it can get long. During the wait, you will not only get to see more parts of the building’s interior architecture, but you will also be privy to some interesting exhibits about the history and construction of the building. While the top can get crowded, the views of the city are most certainly worth it.

On the south side of the Empire State Building, at 33rd you will find the heart of Koreatown. This area is a great spot to hit up if you want some authentic Korean food and one of the hottest spots in town for a karaoke night. On any given night you are sure to be able to find a spot to rent a room with friends and sing for hours! Along with a server who will help you out with any food or drink orders you and your friends may have.

If you head further to the west down 33rd or 34th, beyond the Macy’s at 34th and Broadway, you will find the famous Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Rangers, and the New York Knicks. If sporting events are not your thing, there is bound to be a concert happening, as this is one of the key spots in New York City for a stadium tour stop. Adjacent to Madison Square Garden is Penn Station, a hub for not only the New York Subway but also, the Metro North, New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, and Amtrak. Penn Station is currently known as the being the busiest train station in North America.

6. Explore Famous Fifth Avenue

Over on Fifth Avenue, between and 50th and 51st Streets you will find the renowned St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This cathedral is the largest Gothic Revival Catholic cathedral in North America, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is an active church that hosts many weddings and services, but you can also participate in an audio tour of the building if that interests you.

View of st patrick's cathedral in midtown manhattan nyc on a blue sky day

Fifth Avenue is often known for its retail, and there is no shortage of high-end shops here to peruse such as Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Bergdorf Goodman, BVLGARI, and Armani but there are a couple of shops that are a bit more notable than others. For instance, the famous SAKS Fifth Avenue.

Not only is this store a site many shopaholics have on their list of places to visit, but they are well known for having some of the best window displays in town, all year long. In fact, during the Christmas season they not only have a light show that takes place every 15 minutes on their shop façade, but the Radio City Rockettes perform in front of the store for the annual unveiling of their holiday windows. The shop front faces the Rockefeller Christmas tree so this can be a busy area during the holidays, but well worth it for any holiday trip to the Big Apple.

A few blocks north at 57th Street, you will encounter the Flagship Tiffany & Co store, this famous storefront was used in the film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with Audrey Hepburn. This multi-level shop has a main salesroom on the first floor, where you can see the store’s permanent installation of the Tiffany Yellow Diamond, private showrooms on the upper floors, and is home to the Blue Box Café located on the building’s 4th floor.

Going even further north, to 59th Street, at the beginning of Central Park, you will find the Plaza Hotel. This hotel has been a featured element in a number of film and tv spots, most notably Home Alone 2, Lost in New York as it is the home where Kevin McCallister runs up an obscene amount of credit card charges. This hotel is still one of the most prominent places to stay in New York City, be it short-term or long-term. It is also host to many events and weddings year-round. The main floors are open to the public and downstairs there is a food hall and shops. This is a great spot to pop in for a bite to eat or a cocktail after a long afternoon wandering Central Park.

7. The Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal and United Nations

Grand Central Terminal may just be a “commuter railway station” but this National Historic Landmark is also one of the ten most visited tourist attractions in the world! This terminal is the second busiest train station in North America, New York Penn Station holding the number one title. Originally designed with two floors, the upper to service inter-city trains and the lower for commuter rail, the inter-city service ended in 1991, which in turn changed the structure of the terminal to house rail service on the upper level, now known as the Main Concourse, and the lower level to now be known as the Dining Concourse.

inside grand central terminal in midtown manhattan nyc looking up at ceiling and design

Grand Central houses many food stalls, restaurants, shops, and a grocery market but is most recognizable for its main concourse which has been featured in many films over the years. There have been many changes to Grand Central since it was originally built and to get a complete history of these changes as well as information on the stunning architecture, we highly recommend one of the tours offered here.

A few blocks from Grand Central you will find the Chrysler Building. This skyscraper, built in the Art Deco style, is known as the tallest brick building in the world to have a steel framework. This building was named for one of its original tenants, Walter Chrysler, yes, the Chrysler of automotive fame. After opening, the building offered an observation deck available for just fifty cents, but currently, only tenants or guests are allowed beyond the lobby and there are no tours offered. You can view the exterior of the building from the surrounding streets, or you can also get a beautiful view of it from the Top of the Rock, especially with the use of binoculars.

The United Nations Headquarters is located on “international territory” and not a piece of land governed by the US government, but it is located on the eastern side of Midtown Manhattan. This complex has served as the UN Headquarters since its completion in 1951. Guests can check out the main grounds of the UN for free, but you will not be able to see any major parts of the headquarters without taking a tour. Tours are available on weekdays only and it is important to note that children under the age of five are not permitted inside any of the buildings or on the tours.

8. Rockafeller Center Area & Radio City Music Hall

Rockefeller Center consists of 19 Art Deco-style commercial buildings, with what is commonly known as “30 Rock” acting as its center. This area is home to NBC studios and has been seen on tv and in films far and wide. It’s well known for its Christmas tree, which lights up at the base of 30 rock, seemingly atop the Rockefeller ice skating rink during the holidays.  It is also home to the plaza where the Today Show is filmed and puts on free outdoor concerts throughout the summer months for those who choose to come early enough to get a spot.

looking up at rockefeller center 30 rock building and statue and skating rink in plaza below

This area offers NBC studio tours, as well as an observation deck on the “Top of the Rock”. Similar to the Empire State building, the lines for the observation deck can get long and require a reservation, but the line is filled with exhibits on the history of the area. What is different about this observatory compared to the Empire State Building, is the amount of space it has to offer. So, while they can both become crowded, Top of the Rock has a bit more space provided for the crowds.

If you want a view, but observation decks are not your thing, Bar 65, located on the 65th floor of the building serves cocktails and food alongside splendid city views or you can opt to attend one of the private events taking place in the famed Rainbow Room, also located on the 65th floor.

Radio City Music Hall is another building located at Rockefeller Center and has been host to many notable performances from comedians to Grammy Award winners but most notably it is known for the Radio City Rockettes. Many aspiring dancers from around the world come to Radio City to take classes from the Rockettes as well as see their shows but if it is not dancing you aspire to, you can attend any number of concerts and shows that take place year-round. This venue keeps up much of its old Art Deco charm, with various lounges, “smoking rooms” and lobbies to explore, so if you opt against seeing a show, we highly recommend one of the tours they provide.

9. Explore Hudson Yards

Beginning near 14th Street at Gansevoort Street and heading north to 34th Street is a 1.45-mile elevated former railway track turned park called, The High Line. This park is a popular place for tourists and locals to take a stroll while overlooking the waterfront and the cityscape. Along this strip of path are various works of art and vegetation, it provides a nice escape from traffic below, but can still become pretty crowded with pedestrians. This park is open daily at 7am, closing time depends on time of year, but it typically closes about 2hrs after sunset. The High Line will take you all the way north to one of New York City’s newest developments, Hudson Yards.

looking up at the vessel or "beehive" in midtown nyc on a blue sky day with reflections

Hudson Yards is home to The Vessel, which stands 150 feet tall (16 stories) and is comprised of 2,500 copper-clad steps. Many people call it “the hive” as a nickname because the sculpture has the look of a beehive. If you want to try your hand at the 154 connected flights of stairs that make up this piece of art, check the website ahead of time to reserve a spot as it is not open for entry every day, but you can always check your reflection in it from outside.

The Vessel sits right outside the mall and food hall located at Hudson Yards and often has many food trucks around its base for you to try. Also at Hudson Yards, The Shed. Considered the cultural center of the area, The Shed hosts a wide range of art events. The building has a 500-seat theater and two floors of galleries, events located inside do charge an admissions fee. The shell of the building can be open and closed, and when it is open the plaza becomes an open-air outdoor space available to the general public.

10. Have a Night Out in Hell’s Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen is located Midtown West and goes from the north part of Hudson Yards, up to 59th street/Columbus Circle, and from 8th Ave all the way to the Hudson River. Until the 1970s this area was known to be home to many of the city’s working class, poor, Irish Americans but in the 80’s the city began to see a shift and the area began to be called home by a substantial portion of the LGBTQ community. Nowadays, this area is known for its multiethnic restaurants and nightlife.

Between 8th and 9th Avenues on 46th Street is New York City’s “Restaurant Row”. This block is home to 34 restaurants and bars of varying types. Here you can have your pick of cuisines such as Japanese, Italian, French, Brazilian, Spanish, American, Thai, Korean, and more! On top of that, this block is also home to a classic New York City Tavern, a multi-level LGBTQ friendly dance club, Swing 46, which as its name implies is an American Jazz club where you swing dance the night away to live music and a popular place among the theater community called, “Don’t Tell Mama.” A classic piano bar where you can enjoy cocktails and sing your heart out to all your favorite Broadway tunes, while this spot is similar to Marie’s Crisis in Lower Manhattan, but the drinks are a bit pricier and the bathrooms a bit cleaner.

Reservations Are Highly Recommended

If you plan to go out in the Hell’s Kitchen area on the weekend or have dinner before showtime a reservation is advisable as the area does get crowded, especially when the weather is nice.  There is no shortage of variety in restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen and not just in the food they serve but also the environment. This area has many Irish pubs that serve amazing food at great prices and will have all the popular games on the tv’s around the pub, or you can go to a place like V{IV} which serves upscale Northern Thai cuisine and fantastic cocktails with the music blaring in a club type environment and on a weekend afternoon you will find no shortage of drag brunches.

having drinks at ViV Thai Restaurant and Drag Brunch in NYC Midtown hells kitchen

For a night out on the town, you can find a variety of clubs, including Flaming Saddles which boasts its (predominantly male) bartenders dancing on the bar every 15 minutes or so to classic country tunes. There are also roughly 16 off-Broadway theaters in this neighborhood along with a variety of comedy clubs such as The Broadway Comedy Club, which has seen performances by the likes of Tracy Morgan, Sarah Silverman, and Wanda Sykes.

Wow! With So Many Things to do in Midtown, How Can You Fit it All Into Your Trip? 

As you can see, there are just SO many things to do in the Midtown Manhattan area that it’s easy to see why some people never leave this area during their visit to NYC. There is something for everyone in Midtown, including iconic NYC tourist spots, culture and show venues, historic buildings, shopping, and great restaurants. There are even greenspaces to discover and rest your feet (like the Hudson River Park that offers views of New Jersey and out west towards the sunset).  So while Midtown may be full of the hustle and bustle (and the buzz of tourists), it also provides plenty of rooftop areas and park spaces for those quiet moments that help round out a wonderful vacation.

Plan your trip to NYC with our 3-day sample itinerary here!


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